There wasn't much ceremony surrounding it, but at 5am on Monday, the beginning of its broadcast day, CJNT Montreal went from being a sister station to CHCH Hamilton to being an affiliate of the Rogers-owned Citytv network.
A month ago, Rogers and Channel Zero, which owns CJNT and CHCH, announced that they had come to an agreement to sell the station for an undisclosed sum. The deal made sense because Channel Zero had done just about nothing with CJNT, instead focusing its efforts for the first two years on the higher-rated Hamilton station. And Rogers needs a Montreal presence for its Citytv network and has plenty of experience with ethnic programming thanks to its OMNI stations. It comes as little surprise that Rogers was interested in buying CJNT for years.
Since buying a television station is a long process, requiring approval from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission before it can close, the deal between Channel Zero and Rogers also included a provision making CJNT a Citytv affiliate as of June 4.
While it's being branded as a Citytv affiliate, with sitcom reruns in the afternoons, a look at its primetime schedule shows it's really more of an OMNI station than anything else. Half its primetime schedule is OMNI programming, mainly national daily newscasts in various languages.
Citytv has a full weekly schedule for CJNT on its website. Here's how it breaks down for the new CJNT on weekdays:
- Midnight to 5am: Episodes of Seinfeld, Two and a Half Men, The Office, Judge Joe Brown, Maury Povich, Cold Case
- 5am to 6am: CityLine
- 6am to 7am: Rerun of Italian newscast
- 7am to 10am: Metro Debut, extended to three hours
- 10am to 11pm: CityLine
- 11am to 1pm: Rebroadcasts of other OMNI newscasts
- 1pm to 3pm: Ethnic programming
- 3pm to 4pm: General Hospital
- 4pm to 8pm: Judge Judy, 30 Rock, The Office, Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother
- 8pm to 9pm: Italian OMNI newscast (Ontario)
- 9pm to 9:30pm: Cantonese OMNI newscast
- 9:30pm to 10pm: Mandarin OMNI newscast
- 10pm to 11pm: Murdoch Mysteries (an original Citytv series)
- 11pm to 11:30pm: Punjabi OMNI newscast
- 11:30pm to midnight: Portuguese OMNI newscast (Ontario)
On weekends, the schedule is mainly ethnic programming, with documentaries, movies, weekly newsmagazines and other programs.
As part of its announcements last week of its fall schedule, Rogers released programming grids for its stations. Here's the one for CJNT, which still has the Italian newscast at 8pm (except Mondays when it's at 7) and filling other parts of the prime-time schedule with OMNI documentaries.
The schedule looks like this because of CJNT's conditions of license that require half of primetime to be ethnic programming. Specifically:
- Not less than 60% of programming broadcast annually between 6am and midnight must be ethnic programs (the current schedule shows only eight hours a day on weekdays devoted to ethnic programming, so CJNT devotes 100% of its hours from 6am to midnight on Saturday and Sunday to make up the difference, and it does so with less than half an hour to spare)
- Not less than 50% of programming broadcast monthly between 6pm and midnight must be ethnic programs (the fall schedule shows 50% for 7pm to 11pm - assuming it continues with OMNI newscasts from 11pm to midnight it would meet this requirement and could still air sitcom reruns at 6pm to 7pm)
- Not less than 75% of programming broadcast monthly between 8pm and 10pm must be ethnic programs (the fall schedule shows 79% in those hours)
- Not less than 50% of programming between 6am and midnight must be Canadian (the current schedule has weekdays with 10 of 18 hours being Canadian programs)
- Not less than 40% of programming between 6pm and midnight must be Canadian (with OMNI newscasts produced in Toronto, this isn't a difficult threshold to reach)
- Not fewer than 18 distinct ethnic groups targetted monthly
- Not fewer than 15 languages monthly (with five language versions of the OMNI daily newscast, much of this and the previous requirement is met with weekly weekend programs)
Then there's the matter of local ethnic programming.
In the CRTC decision awarding a license to Channel Zero, it's not listed as a "condition of license" but rather a "commitment" - the new owner had actually proposed a slight increase in the amount of local ethnic programming to 14 hours a week.
But in the three years it owned the station, Channel Zero hasn't produced a minute of local ethnic programming. Instead, it has been airing years-old repeats of local programs that were produced under Canwest, much to the annoyance of the people who ran those programs who would like to be able to reach their audiences again. When I spoke to Channel Zero's programming director Jennifer Chen a few months ago, she said that there were setbacks because a deal with a local producer fell through, and that the company was in talks with another producer. But she also admitted that to a large extent Channel Zero focused more on CHCH at first than CJNT.
With the CRTC holding a hearing into the sale of CJNT to Rogers, there's not much point in complaining about how Channel Zero has failed to keep the station on its mandate. But legitimate questions can be raised over what plans Rogers has for local ethnic programming.
Looking at the fall primetime schedule above, it seems Rogers is prepared to continue with the other conditions of license.
Other OMNI stations have similar programming requirements, and produce regional editions of their newscasts. The Cantonese, Mandarin and Punjabi editions of OMNI News that air on CJNT are national newscasts, while the Italian and Portuguese versions are regional Toronto editions. (This is why, for example, the latter two only go from Windsor to Ottawa when giving the weather.)
No application has been published by the CRTC for Rogers to acquire CJNT. It's at that point that we'll have an idea of its plans, whether it will ask the regulator to reduce ethnic programming requirements (unlikely, since it rejected two requests from Canwest to do that) or reduce local ethnic programming requirements in favour of non-ethnic local programming (like Metro Debut or another morning show).
The biggest part of CJNT's new schedule, and perhaps the most unfamiliar to Montreal audiences, is OMNI News, the foreign-language daily newscasts that make up a large part of ethnic programming requirements for OMNI stations.
The newscasts look about as identical as their title screens make them look. Low-budget with only a single anchor (except the Italian edition which has a separate sports anchor). All are in high definition. The Italian edition is an hour long, the others are half an hour long. The Italian and Portuguese editions are actually local Toronto versions that cover the Ontario region, so they qualify as local programming. Other regions (there are also OMNI stations in Alberta and British Columbia) have other regional editions in various languages.
The newscasts tend to have similar-looking stories, usually with the same top headlines (and using the same video for them). They distinguish themselves where it matters to their communities. More talk of Italian soccer in the Italian edition. More about what's happening in China in the Cantonese and Mandarin editions. The newscasts make use of foreign news reports in their language and even add the homeland to their weather forecasts.
It might be fun to have something like this in Montreal, a daily newscast perhaps attracting a bit more attention from local ethnic viewers than the low-budget newsmagazines of the old CJNT days. But Rogers's plans for local programming for the station are still unknown.
Not coming back
With many new programs coming to the station, there's also a long list of programs that have been pulled off:
- Fifth-rate American programming (mainly CW network shows) whose Canadian rights are owned by Channel Zero: The Insider, Nightline, Hart of Dixie, The Secret Circle and Supernatural, as well as some NBA games. They have been replaced by third-rate American programming from Citytv.
- The daily sports show Sportsline, produced for CHCH but also aired on CJNT
- Shows featuring Ed the Sock that are produced mainly for CHCH
Frank D'Angelo's vanity programming(it's still airing, at least for now)
- Much of Metro 14's music video programming, with shows like The Main Line and World Beats
Independently-produced local ethnic programming of questionable technical quality, such as Bossbens Show and Amet.tv. Amet.tv disappeared for the first weekend, but returned to the schedule, taking over Saturday afternoons. Religious infomercial Il est écrit is also continuing to air.
Also gone are those three-year-old reruns of former CJNT local programming, like Soul Call, Foco Latino, Hellas Spectrum and Magazine Libanais.
Metro Debut remains
The only show that remains on the schedule is Metro Debut, the morning show hosted by Evan Arppe, who ironically looks like the whitest man on television. The show consists mainly of music videos (some of which are produced in HD, converted to standard definition then converted back into HD, meaning they take up only a tiny box on the screen), interspersed with the host giving news headlines, traffic and weather information with no help from graphics, reporters, live images or anything else. It's about as low-budget as you can possibly get.
Another program that was on Metro 14 and will come back to it is Jimmy Kimmel Live. This is just a coincidence - Citytv has picked up the Canadian rights to the show from Channel Zero. It will start airing this fall, and CJNT fills the midnight to 1am hour with Seinfeld reruns in the meantime.
There's still a lot that's unknown and will be determined through the CRTC process. It's unsurprising that OMNI content will fill much of CJNT's schedule, and that the schedule maximizes the amount of American programming that airs during weekdays. A look at the station's programming page shows that it looks to get a lot of its viewers, at least during the summer, from afternoon programming. And much of that will benefit from simultaneous substitution: General Hospital at 3pm (WVNY), Judge Judy at 4pm (WPTZ), 30 Rock at 5pm (WFFF), The Office at 5:30pm (WFFF) and Two and a Half Men at 6pm (WFFF).
If Rogers is planning on local ethnic programming for CJNT, expect it to take the form of new regional OMNI newscasts (Spanish, Italian and Arabic might be good choices here) and weekly newsmagazines.
Will Videotron pull CITY or OMNI Toronto?
With the arrival of Citytv in Montreal carrying much of OMNI's programming, there's a question about what will happen to two Toronto stations on Videotron's illico digital cable system: CITY-DT Toronto (Channel 78 in SD and 678 in HD) and CFMT-DT Toronto (OMNI.1, Channel 80). I've asked Videotron about its future plans for these channels, particularly since one uses up a bandwidth-hogging HD slot. I'll update this when I hear back.
CJNT's schedule differs from CITY's enough that there's probably a good argument to keep the latter. But with ethnic programming all over CJNT's schedule, there might be less of one for keeping OMNI.